Jack walks into the office. Nothing fancy; just twenty-ish cubicles organized into a large square on the 28th floor of a New York-style high rise. Jack is late. Jack is always late. Jack lumbers passed one row of cubicles and turns into the small closet-like break-room located at the rear of the office. He notices to his discontent, that there is only an ounce or-so left of coffee. Jack sighs, gulps it down straight from the pot, and grimaces from the bitter shock of slightly cold, black brew. Spinning on his heel, he turns quickly to exit the closet and knocks his forehead into something with a soft but sharp, smack. It is the forehead of the C.O.O’s personal assistant, Elaine.
Elaine is a quaint woman, with black bob-cut hair, buddy holly glasses, and no particularly note-able features, but to Jack she is every bit as beautiful as the moon; every bit as elegant as its slow dance to peel back the night.
Jack grunts loudly and turns a deep shade of crimson. Elaine shoves her face into her hands and lets out a small animal-like noise, melting Jack’s heart and accentuating his guilt.
“Oh no…I am so fuckin’ sorry, Elaine! I really should pay more attention, huh?”
Elaine looks up with watery eyes that shoot rusty steak knives in Jack’s direction. “You show up twenty minutes late every day, and half the time you cause physical harm to yourself or someone else before you leave. Do us all a favor and admit yourself into one of those triple-locked white padded institutions.”
Jack looks to his feet for a moment and chuckles before returning his gaze to Elaine, projecting a crooked grin. “You know, I have been to a place just like that? Although it was only to visit a close relative.”
“That answers a question or two.” Elaine mutters under her breath.
Jack twitches at the comment but quickly regains composure. “Also, may I say you look absolutely awe-inspiring today? Truly and marvelously mesmerizing!
Elaine begins toward the exit at the words, “you look—”; apparently abandoning whatever venture that had brought her there. She stops and glances back over her shoulder. “Get something done for once today. You’ll be fired before too long.”
Jack looks down again and turns the opposite direction out of the minuscule doorway toward his cubicle. “I knew she cared,” He whispers as he hooks around the corner, plopping into his faded black computer chair. The cubicle and the desk within are quite plain, minus a lightsaber key-chain that hangs from the handle of the top desk drawer, and a wrinkled poster of John Lennon wearing a New York t-shirt tacked to the left cubicle wall. He presses the small square power button on his monitor, but not his computer, and habitually fingers at the key-chain as he waits. The tiny purple lightsaber and wrinkled poster are perfect physical representations of Jack’s fleeting dreams, and often spur tedious trains of thought dedicated to failed attempts at failed passions he had long-since abandoned; how he should’ve-could’ve-would’ve done something differently. He stares deeply into the glossy black screen. “Perhaps it’s finally died on me?” Jack wonders. But, something flips the railroad switch and Jack’s thoughts give way to Elaine, and the way her legs seemed to go on for miles before ending at the yearning curve of her hips; flips again to a cripplingly-traumatic family experience, of which he had blocked out for years (he quickly forgets again moments later); flips then to something funny he read in the post; and flips back to the lightsaber that dances at his fingertips.
Jack thinks about the movie The Indian in the Cupboard. What if such a wonderful fixture like that cupboard existed? Could he use it to turn the tiny purple lightsaber into a very real and very dangerous glowing beam of death? A very cute and miniature dangerous glowing beam of death? He ponders this for some time. What would the thugs that wander his complex think of his miniature-dangerous-glowing-beam-of-death; his very-cute-miniature-dangerous-glowing-beam-of-death? Although, it may not feel much worse than a thumbtack or an accidental touch of the stove. Painful, certainly, but not lethal, or even much of a deterrent.
Jack feels his soul plummet back into his body from atop a mountain peak of thought as two meaty fingers adjourned in gold rings snap in front of his face. He is greeted by what appears to be a pale, wrinkly, and grossly over-sized bulldog. Large freckled jowls fold at the sides of Mr. Mammon’s swollen face. Thick wrinkles hold themselves delicately over his brows, beneath a thin crown of orange tuft; and the bags under his eyes droop down to just above his nostrils. He looks vividly like Droopy Dog from the old Saturday cartoons.
“How’s it going, son? Get much done today, Champ?”
“Well actually Mr. Mammo-,” Jack begins to speak but is interrupted.
“You know what Jack—lately I have been trying to figure out just what it is that makes you so damn useless.” Mammon chuckles, “How late were you today, Jack?”
“Well Mr. Ma-Mammon sir, I was only twe-” Jack is cut short again, but this time it is by the thunderous bang of meat and metal as a thick paw crashes down against his desk. Jack jumps, and he directs his gaze to his feet as Mr. Mammon’s voice rises to just-short of a scream; the booming voice of a football coach mixed with the muddled gravel of a heavy smoker flood the room.
“What in Satan’s bloody name gives you the right to slack off on a company salary you sniveling-bitch? I pay you handsomely to do what? To sit with a thick thumb planted firmly up your rear, son? Is that what gets you off, my boy? Like some sort of fucking faggot?”
Jack grimaces at the remark and notices that the normal cricket-like chatter of twenty-ish keyboards has come to a deafening halt. Jack glances up for just a moment and notices Elaine as the red of her silky flats disappears behind the bathroom door behind Mammon. A crooked and sinister grin raises the jowls of Mammon’s face like the rose-y red curtain of a Broadway tragedy.
“Ah, my boy! My boy, my boy, my boy—” Mr. Mammon’s voice trails off and his eyes dart from side to side. He leans in close to Jack’s face and Jack can smell his secrets on his breath. The staleness of cheap cigar smoke, the acidity of cheap whiskey, and the sour scent of cheap women singe the hair in Jack’s nostrils. Mammon speaks in a harsh whisper.
“So that’s what has my boy acting like a space cadet. You have exquisite taste, son!”
Jack’s head jerks upward, bringing him face to face with the bulldog. He feels the muscles in his forearms strain against themselves as he squeezes the arms of his chair, and a pressure begins to well behind his eyes as he feels the blood in them boil. The grin on the bulldog strains wider, pushing hard at the fleshy freckled curtains that hang at his lips.
“You know, sometimes I think it gets to me too, son. All this work to get done and yet I find myself daydreaming about the ass on that one. What I wouldn’t give to have a taste of that cherry pie. Right my boy? Like an elegant Pan Tres Leches. On the top she’s all prickly and sour fruit, but underneath you can be certain there’s a thick sponge-y cream begging to be lapped up. What I wouldn’t do to let my tongue dance around those curves for a night; let me tell ya, lad.”
Jack begins to tremble and the leather of the arm rests wrinkles and cracks beneath his fingertips. Mammon continues; his nose only a hair’s breadth from Jack’s.
“What do you suppose we do about our tight, little, problem, son? I think I just might be able to reign myself in, but I’m worried about you, my boy! You really do have that twinkle in your eye when you look her way. Don’t think I don’t see it!” Mammon looks down for a moment and chuckles. “On one hand I suppose I could let her go. It’s a hassle finding someone qualified to hold such a prestigious title as yours, Mr. Creative Director; however, Elaine knows my schedule inside and out and finding another secretary that’s as easy on the eyes would be a miracle. What to do, what to do?”
Jack begins to rise and another meaty paw lands with a thud on his shoulder, forcing him back down into his seat. Mammon’s grin falls, and the curtains descend into a furious scowl.
“Let me tell you what we are going to do today, Jack. You’re going to take the day off! In fact, you’re going to take the entire week off, and the next too; to relax and get your head straight.” Mammon pulls a fifty-dollar bill from his pocket and forces it into Jack’s breast pocket. “Here is this week’s check in advance. Buy yourself a bottle and a woman that can bring herself to touch the shriveled gherkin you call a cock and come back with a sense of urgency, or you and your favorite piece of workplace-ass can have fun searching for new jobs together in some other miserable fucking city where I wont have to look at the miserable black hole that sits in this miserable cubicle every miserable fucking day. Do I make myself clear?”
Jack shakes uncontrollably now and his eyes dart from mammon, to the bathroom where Elaine has yet to emerge, to his feet, and back around again. He forces himself to release his grip from the arm rests, but his body is reluctant and does so with a pop as his knuckles crack themselves. Jack has already decided that he must take whatever mercy the bulldog has to offer and did so from the moment she had become a bargaining tool. Mr. Mammon pulls back from Jack’s shoulder and just barely steps aside. Jack passes slowly and holds eye-contact almost to the point of walking backwards to do so, but eventually straightens to exit the room. Mr. Mammon’s jowls furl once again into a crooked, flabby, grin. He reaches to the John Lennon poster tacked to the cubicle wall and crumples it between two thick paws, like a dog with a tennis ball; and tosses it with gentle dexterity at the back of Jack’s head. The small crumpled mass bounces off Jack’s black disheveled hair and falls to the ground.
“Take that with you to whatever dump you call ho—” Mr. Mammon freezes. The room freezes. Time freezes.
Jack stands still and erect, as the light shadow he casts on the carpet beneath him, begins to morph in shape and color; first turning to a deep crimson and then slowly creeping its way outward from Jack’s feet, engulfing the room. All but the skin of Jack’s coworkers becomes tinted in a deep, bloody, red. Red cubicles, red clocks, red tin waste bins, and deep red water in the cooler. Everything is shrouded in a veil of crimson, and everything perfectly still; minus Jack. A pair of acidic yellow eyes peer at Jack from between red plastic Philodendron leaves, and Franky cackles a low breath-y laugh akin to the crackle of a campfire. Jack turns to face him, but Franky is already gone from the spot. Jack feels an uncomfortably hot breath against the back of his neck and forces himself to stand at attention. “Please, just go away” Jack’s voice strains.
“You’re making us look bad here, Jackie! What am I supposed to do? We share a face and I don’t very much enjoy watching myself be condescended to and belittled by some saggy bag of bones like the pedo-bulldog over there.”
Jack feels something like a breeze go through his body and Franky’s head pops up from behind a cubicle to his left; only revealing the bridge of the nose up, it looks like Jack with identically disheveled hair although the skin is a dark grey color, webbed with dark black veins, and the eyes a neon shade of yellow with the pupils of a goat, and red sclera.
“I said stay the fuck out of it!” Jack barks at Franky who’s head ducks down and pops back up at different cubicles in short intervals.
“Jackie, listen, listen—you can’t go on being a push over like this forever, ya know?”
Franky appears with a lunge at Jack’s side, but Jack does not flinch. Franky frowns for a moment and continues, talking in a slow, gravely timbre. Franky speaks like Sinatra sang.
“Listen here kid, that ugly little cockroach of a man just insulted you—insulted us! I saw you begin to act before you let him sit you back down like a child. I saw everything you wanted to do, kiddo. Saw it all inside that malicious head of yours. The way you wanted to seal his fat trap with a few well-placed staples; gouge his eyes with the staple-remover; slash his wrists with the paper cutter; jam the hose of the fire extinguisher down his gullet and release the valve; peel his finger nails off with Tina from financing’s dull letter opener. I gotta say, that last one made me giddy like a school girl. Why not just pull the trigger, champ?”
Jack turns to face Franky and meets his electric gaze. “Maybe because you never call me by my real name and still talk to me like I’m a child. Maybe because you’re a fucking psychopath! What the fucking-fuck are you anyway? Satan? No, you probably aren’t that high on the food-chain if you are in fact demonic. You’re just a waste of my fucking time, Frankie!”
Franky disappears again and then pops up behind Jack, resting his chin on Jack’s shoulder.
“Watch it, Jackie. No need to say something we’ll regret, to someone that’s just trying to help, am-I-right?”
“You’re only out to help yourself. Go fuck off with Mr. Mammon.”
Jack steps forward letting Franky’s chin drop from his shoulder and heads for the door. Something like thunder cracks through the room and seems to shake the building to its foundation, as Franky’s body manifests in front of the exit; his body upside down, feet against the ceiling, and his fingers puncturing deep into the walls on either side of the doorway, back against it, blocking the passage. Franky’s voice echoes through the room like wind and his vocal-tone changes drastically from word to word; oscillating from gravely Sinatra, Jack’s own voice, a voice like a woman’s, and a child’s. At times Franky’s voice is reminiscent of an orchestra finding their C-note.
“You’re a weak, minuscule little maggot and if it weren’t for me, where would you be, huh kid? Who got you laid for the first time? Who showed you how to steal and cheat your way into an ivy-league school and who gave you the cut-throat edge to work your way up this far in this miserable firm? Everything you have and everything you are is thanks to me, kid, and I never get so much as a “thank you” from that whiny mouth of yours.”
Jack continues toward the door and reaches for the handle. “Whatever you say Franky. Thanks for everything All-Mighty Demon King. If that’s all you needed, can we be done now?”
Franky is breathing heavily, letting out small puffs of black smoke as he gasps. His mouth droops for a moment in dumbfounded-shock and his eyes scan every inch of Jack’s lanky build. Some time passes, and Franky’s lips begin creeping back slowly into a deep, malicious, grin. “Okay, okay kid, I suppose all I wanted was a little recognition. You did indeed, deliver. I told you when we first met that eventually I will give you the world, and I just need you to help me, help you, sometimes. Ya know, kid? I know we can grow to be great pals again, you and I! I gotta’ say Jackie, I think we are getting close.”
Franky’s grin creeps larger and larger until the corners of his mouth begin to pop and crack and bleed. His cheeks tear with a moistened rip and his eyes widen with ecstasy.
“Bye, Franky.” Jack whispers as he swings open the door, the grinning Franky fastened to it. It hits the wall with the sharp smack of wood against plaster, and a small puff of smoke fades into the fluorescent lighting. Jack’s shadow snaps back to its proper place beneath his feet and the door closes itself behind him as he exits. Mr. Mammon breathes in sharply and stares at the empty spot where Jack had just stood. Confused and still seething, he yells for Elaine to bring coffee and storms off to his personal office.